Buongiorno, bonjour and “g’day”! (don't you like how they're all the same thing? ~ who knew Australian vernacular was so cosmopolitan???).

Also, "a good day to you, sir/maam" for our American pals, "Ni Hao" to China, and "Здравствуй" to our Russian comrades, "etcetera etcetera and so forth"... (for Yul Brynner).

It’s your old pal Kit (Christof) Fennessy here. I've been writing this blog with your help for ten years, and there's over a hundred and fifty recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours on.

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Now, what's on the bill of fare today?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Kit's Duck a l’Orange

On Valentine’s Day I thought I’d try to demonstrate that I love my wife in ways other than falling on her like a cupboard with the key stuck in the lock (I’m stealing her material here). And what better way to show someone how much you care than walking off the pathway of everyday dishes and treading unchartered territory in the kitchen to knock their socks off?

I decided to make duck a l’orange. It was about the fanciest thing I could think of, short of lobster with champagne and butter, or Bombe Alaska, and something I hadn’t tried (not that I’ve made the others, yet, either).

First up, why duck a l’orange? Why not “canard a l’orange”? Or orange infused roast duck? Je ne sais pas, but I will stick with tradition.

The first challenge? Buying a duck. Duck is considered a bit of a luxury bird to roast, predominantly because it’s so fatty – they are waterproof and do float – but also because of the small amount of meat on the animal. Ducks have heavy frames, and most of the meat is in the breast and the legs, so one bird is only enough for two.

Luv a Duck has been very active in Melbourne in supplying pre-cooked portions to supermarkets that all you do is heat and eat. But that’s like serving a premade lasagna, don’t you think? And when you’re trying to do something really nice, I mean, come on!

Many supermarkets only stock whole ducks around Christmas time in Melbourne, and if you do find one, it will be hoar frosted to the bottom of the deep freeze, will take a week to thaw, be shy of the weight you require (aim for a 2kg bird or higher if possible) and cost a LOT.

I went to a Vietnamese Victoria St butcher for mine. The shops there run rings around domestic “white” butchers or major supermarkets if you need to source ingredients for French cooking. They’ve got nearly everything you need: pork from female sows with thick cut ribs, hard pork back fat for your terrines, livers for your pate and fresh ducks with the heads on at 2 kgs… for only $15!

The lady offered to cut the head off mine, but I wanted it to put in the mirepoix (the chopped up veggies under the roast) to enhance the sauce, along with the wing tips. She smiled knowingly and gave me a nod when I said “no thanks”, like I really knew how to do Peking Duck or something.

I may have mentioned the nightmarish feeling of cutting out the backbones of chickens and likening it to making an outfit for Silence of the Lambs (see Surfin’ Bird). Try cutting off a duck head that’s smiling at you! It felt like attacking Mr Curly with a machete and a bottle of industrial solvent while wearing a Slip Knot mask. I consoled myself with the thought that the duck had gone to the great pond in the sky and promised to use every part of it and put its corporeal remains in a good home: i.e. Jane and me!

Enter Stephanie Alexander and her Cook’s Companion (1st Edition). I like Stephanie Alexander and this book – which I’ve used for years and was given to us on our wedding day by Jane’s nanna, named “Nanna” (it says so on the signed title page) – but, as usual, big question marks remain around the issue of her roasting times. I can only assume that she either had a fan forced oven OR a very tardy timepiece when she was writing this book. She always underdoes things, and suggested in the recipe that you could roast a potato in half an hour, and that all the veg would take the same length of time. Wrong! So, abley supported by Steph and using a few tweaks of my own, here is:

Kit’s Duck a l’Orange
Serves Two

One duck
A couple of thick slices of orange

Roasting vegetables
6 small carrots (peeled)
6 new potatoes (peeled)
6 small turnips (peeled)
(i.e. a bit more than enough for two)

1 stick of celery
1 carrot
1 onion
Fresh thyme (cruel thyme!)
Bay leaf
3 cloves of knife side smashed garlic
A few black peppercorns (Stephanie’s signature ingredient, and I’m sure for her a bit like a magic stick in a mud pudding)

Duck head and neck
Duck wing tips
Half a cup of white wine (dry or sweet to taste)

1 cup of strong stock (chicken)
Orange zest and juice

Preheat your oven to 220°. Cut the head and neck off the duck and drop in the bottom of your roasting pan with duck wing tips and chopped up mirapoix ingredients (5mm cubes / diced), wine and thyme. Write an apology letter to Leunig and dry your tears.

Pat the duck dry with paper towel inside and out, pricking the fat around the neck (hole) and legs with a fork. Insert orange slices into the cavity with some of the thyme. Season the bird liberally with salt and pepper (“as uszh”).

Put your dressed duck on top of mirapoix on its side and surround with potatoes. Roast for 25 minutes.
Remove pan from oven, skim fat off the juices in the bottom of the pan (you can save this and freeze for another day, to do duck fat potatoes! – this step is necessary though, since the whole thing’s so very fatty), baste and turn the duck onto its other side. Add turnips. Roast for another 25 minutes.

Again, skim the fat off the juices in the pan, baste and add small peeled carrots. Return to the oven with the duck breast up for the last stage, reduce heat to 200° and roast for a further 40 minutes.

Remove duck and roasting vegetables, cover loosely with crumpled aluminium foil and allow to rest. If the roasting veg need longer, put them in the oven on a separate tray. Meanwhile make your sauce, the piece de la resistance.

Skim the fat off the juices in the bottom of your original roasting pan, add the stock and put the pan on stove top on a high-ish heat. Add the grated zest and juice of one orange and stir as the jus reduces. Push the lot through a strainer into a small saucepan.

Glaze the duck with a little of the sauce after it has rested for fifteen minutes and return to the oven (with veg) to crisp up the skin for ten minutes.

Carving can be an issue, since ducks don’t have the same topography as chickens. Just remember that all the meat is on the breast and legs and you’ll have done a good job. I used the Chinese technique of a meat clever, dissecting the bird into four.

Serve with a green salad to make you think you’re eating a balanced diet, with the sauce on the side, a slice of orange on the duck, and a bottle of Merlot.

Bon apetite!

p.s. Don’t throw out the carcass, head or wing tips after cooking and serving. Save these in the freezer (with your container of duck fat for chips). We’ll revisit them in a few weeks for duck soup, using chestnuts and lentils!
p.p.s Keep the Mylanta handy!

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Monday, February 13, 2012

A Gourmet Pantheon of Porridges

Happy Valentine's Day!

Much as Christmas, the time of forgiveness, family and giving has turned into a festival of consumerism and confrontation between family members, so too has Valentine’s Day, the day of lovers, become the festival of loneliness, heart ache and recrimination for some unfortunate few.
So today, buy the flowers, cook the dinner, do the dishes and be on your best behaviour to ensure your partner feels looked after.
I plan to try Duck a l’Orange ce soir, and maybe some crème caramel as well, but since I've yet to make them, I have nothing to report. Instead, I thought I'd turn my thoughts to porridge, that least romantic of all foods.

“Porridge?” you ask. “I came here for high gourmet food, not this load of tripe. What next? Is he going to be telling me about a glass of milk?”
In spite of preconceptions, porridge can be a glamour food, in a warm breakfasty, cereal kind of way. I first started eating porridge after a trip to the GP (the doctor, not the car race) about a sore knee.
“Porridge for a sore knee?” you interrupt again.
When I went and saw the doctor the phantom noise had gone and I appeared to have full mobility. Doctor conversation ensues:

“You took a Nurofen™? In addition to being a pain killer it’s also an anti-inflammatory. There’s nothing I can do.”
‘So what do I do if it starts creaking again?”
“Have another Nurofen™.”
“And what will happen to my knee?”
“Eventually it will give out. The sound you hear is the cartilage balling up, like pilling on a jumper. Just don’t go for jogs or do squat lifting. Kind of genuflect.”
Incensed at not going in for an arthroscopy, I asked for him to do something for me while I was there. He offered to do a full battery of blood tests and a general check up, which I duly had. The phone rang a week later.
“The doctor wants to see you.”
The result? High cholesterol, that 21st Century problem. I think mine’s genetic, apart from the French cooking and butter and what not, as my brother is on pills for his cholesterol. A second opinion was garnered from one of my doctor friends over dinner. He’s originally from Germany and is basically no nonsense.
“What a load of rubbish. What are your figures? You’re not even forty yet, and those figures are only a worry if you are a fat sicky. And you’re not a sicky, are you? Eat what you want.”
Confused, I undertook not to take pills and to moderate my diet with a weather eye to cholesterol. And as part of the regime, I undertook to eat cereal every morning.
I’ve spoken to a number of people, done some research, and it appears that oats are the tip top champion at reducing cholesterol, and that WeetBix™ have the nutritional content of cardboard. Allegedly!! A hippy told me at a BBQ beside a whole roasted lamb we were picking at over the holidays.
The first time I tried making porridge, it was an absolute disaster. Too thick, lumpy, dry and generally crap. I thought:
“How can anyone eat this muck?”
But then I recalled the smooth bowl of warm goodness my Mum used to give me in winter as a kid, and swore me an oath beneath the moon and stars that I would hit all the honky tonks and bars and learn how to make the world’s best porridge.
And in the last year think I’ve cracked it. To whit, Kit’s Gourmet Porridge.

Porridge (for 1!)
* Half a cup of traditional rolled oats. I discovered this morning that no-name oats are not as well “rolled” as Uncle Toby’s™ Traditional Rolled oats, resulting in less of a paste than individual oats-en-porridge (which is probably better for you, but not as glam). So go the expensive rolled oats. (Post-script: someone gave me a razz for bigging up Uncle T's, and remarked that Lowan
made very good oats... which I just tried this morning and can confirm. Go Lowan!!).
* A cup and a little slosh (about an extra 50 to 100 mls) of milk. I like Rev™.

Combine in pot and bring to a slow simmer. Do not allow the milk to boil. Stir with a wooden spoon. As the porridge blips away on the stove, you can do the dishes from the night before, which is another bonus. It takes around six to eight minutes to get the right consistency. The porridge should start to become a firm paste, kind of like a clingy glob that sticks to the spoon, but not too dry. Decant to a bowl, mix in a *squeeze of honey (have you tried Manuka honey from New Zealand? - apparently it has healing powers) and allow to sit while you finish the dishes. Add a small slosh of milk to lubricate the edge of the bowl and form a skin on the porridge. Eat, preferably with a silver spoon.
It does take a knack and you will need a few goes.
Some people don’t like sweet porridge. Jane prefers a pinch of salt over a squeeze of honey. To each their own and vive le difference.
Once you’ve managed to make standard porridge, a little door opens for you to enter the mysterious world of gourmet porridge.
“Qu’est que si que ca?” I hear Harry Hill ask.
Well, porridge is basically like toast. Once you’ve got the toast you can then add toppings. Here are a few variations.


Whisky Porridge
I got this, and the next recipe, from Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food, a thoroughly tip-top cook book I recommend to anyone, but I include here my own pukka observations, alright?
At the last minute of cooking the porridge as above, add *half a shot a Scottish whisky. I have a bottle of Tullamore Dew™ beside the stove, and can recommend it highly. The alcohol boils off at a lower temperature than water, so you don’t need to worry about it getting you drunk. That said, if you’re worried about letting good ethanol escape away into the atmosphere, you can inhale deeply over the pot as you stir it in and suck up the alcohol through your breathing apparatus. Add to this *a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. This can be overdone, so no more than about a quarter of a teaspoon. At this point Jamie Oliver adds half a chopped banana, but if you were married to Jane, who has an aversion to all things bananary, you might rethink this and only add if bachelor-ing it up. Mix in honey. Delish.

Dark Chocolate and Marmalade Porridge
This one is not for every day. It’s a special occasion porridge, when you’re being particularly decadent.
In the last minute of the porridge cooking, grate in *some dark chocolate, preferably Lindt™. How much? Not too much. Remember this stuff is like toast: if you were making a fancy sweet toast with chocolate, how much would you add to a slice or two? I’d suggest no more than a tablespoon, but it’s up to you. Next, add *a teaspoon of seville orange marmalade. Make sure it is a bitter marmalade, as sweet ones tend to overpower the dark chocolate and make the whole thing a bit sickly.
Coco-lishous, and decadent.

White Chocolate and Raspberry Jam
Use the same technique as above, with slightly less jam (half a teaspoon). An experiment of mine, and not as good as the above, but worthy of note. Reminiscent of an Iced Vovo™.

Cinnamon and Brown Sugar
This variation occurred to me one morning after making my great-Aunty Claire’s cinnamon toast which I learnt to make when I was a kid at her crazy flat in Bendigo, with all her orange wigs and light fittings that looked like sugared lollies. She’d get us to make cinnamon toast on white bread with butter; you basically sprinkle on ground cinnamon and plenty of sugar to imitate a cinnamon doughnut.
This porridge is the same concept and, can I add, an unmitigated triumph and worthy of joining the Pantheon of Porridges. Sprinkle around *a teaspoon, or to taste, of dried cinnamon, and *2 teaspoons of brown sugar once your ordinary porridge is made.

Gourmet porridge. Make up your own (and send us the recipe!)! It reduces cholesterol, is simple, wholesome, will make you live longer, improve your bowel movement scenarios, as well as reducing your likelihood of a heart attack or stroke. Porridge. I give it six and a half tentacles.

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